A local grocery store has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against the city of Glendale, charging that an ordinance allowing the city to confiscate stray shopping carts and charge grocers to get them back is "extortion."
The suit by Alpha Beta, 1122 E. Broadway, was filed last Thursday in Glendale Superior Court. It claims that the city unlawfully seized more than 200 carts that had been taken from the store's lots and left on public property and has refused to return them.
"It's tantamount to having your car stolen, then going to the impound yard and being told, "OK, you've got to pay a special fee to get your car back,' " said Mark Geragos, an attorney representing Alpha Beta. "When your property is taken away from you, you shouldn't have to pay to get it back. In any other situation, that's called extortion. It's punishing the victim."
In November, 1988, the City Council, frustrated by a growing number of carts abandoned on streets, sidewalks, parks and other public areas, passed an ordinance authorizing the city to collect the carts and charge grocers $15 each for their return.
But a year later, after more than 800 stray carts were rounded up and kept at a public works yard, council members adopted an ordinance that exempted groceries from the $15 per-cart charge if they agreed to install electronic cart-control devices.
Several stores, including Alpha Beta, agreed to use the device, which would automatically lock the wheels of shopping carts taken off the stores' property.
Vons, Lucky Stores and Ralphs then picked up, at no charge, hundreds of their carts that had been kept at the yard, said Albert Lee, a maintenance supervisor at the yard.
But the device, called Kart Kontrol, failed to work, leaving city officials searching earlier this month for a new system.
Geragos said last week that Alpha Beta has considered other cart-control systems but that they are costly to install. He said the grocery may not pursue the lawsuit if the store's carts are returned without charge.
City officials have estimated the carts are worth about $100 apiece. But Geragos said a cart costs about $400. He contended that the city damaged Alpha Beta's carts when it stored them and should reimburse the grocery for the time and money it has lost trying to retrieve the carts.
Ray Cruz, a city administrative assistant who oversees collection of the carts, was not available for comment. But City Atty. Scott Howard said the ordinance authorizing the collection "is lawful, appropriate and constitutional."
"These carts are a hazard and they're a nuisance," Howard said. "The courts generally hold that where you have the type of business that's going to contribute to the problem, you have an obligation to cure the problem. It's the market's responsibility to ensure that these carts don't get scattered around the streets."